Arcade Master System Mega Drive Game Gear Saturn Dreamcast

Metal Slug: Super Vehicle 001 | Neo Geo | Nazca

Upon it's release in 1996 Metal Slug was immediately celebrated for it's fast-paced and rewarding action, richly detailed graphic work, and also for bringing some welcome diversity to the Neo Geo library. More than a decade later, it continues to be one of the most popular arcade games (as evidenced by the number of ROM downloads, among others.) and even one that has endeared itself to hardcore and mainstream alike, a triumph for any game so founded in skill and score. Of course popularity says nothing to a sufficient understanding (in part due to a lack of knowledge regarding arcade philosophy in general) but it goes to show that Nazca have created one hell of a shiny red ball here. And for those willing (or able) to delve deeper, you will find nothing less than a masterpiece of arcade design and action shooting.

It shouldn't come as a surprise then that the developers are no strangers to the genre. Under Irem the team's previous efforts included Gunforce (1991,) Kaitei Daisensou (1993,) and Geo Storm (1994,) and reportedly there was also involvement in an earlier SNK action shooting game, Cyber Lip (1990.) In particular Gunforce and Geo Storm can be seen as progenitors to a uniquely methodical brand of action shooting that would lead to the creation of Metal Slug. Gunforce itself played similarly to Contra but a number of factors limited the pacing in favor of careful planning (such as the speed disparity between the player and projectiles, a lack of visual cues for most enemy shots, and more complex enemy and stage design.) Also notable was the large amount of vehicles and other objects your character could seize for an added offensive or mobility advantage. Three years later, Geo Storm stepped up the pyrotechnics to such excessive levels that you needed to be even more observant, as it was usually that one bullet sneaking through an explosion that got you. It featured oddly innovative scoring mechanics for the sub-genre (something the horizontally-oriented games always seemed to lack) like rescuing hostages and collecting items for point multipliers during a performance assessment after every stage. Metal Slug continues to build on many of these elements, revising when necessary (bullet visibility, for instance) to deliver something that is not only significantly evolved from the genre's previous model from Konami, but in turn they had created a new one though it was sadly late in the game to have its deserved effect.

One of the primary developments is based on having many attack options available to the player. You'll begin simply enough with an unlimited pistol that your character can fire in four directions (pressing diagonally upwards here causes them to shoot upwards while running rather than shooting diagonally,) and a small supply of stick grenades. These obviously have a shorter, arched trajectory and will roll forward (skipping a tier when possible) until expending it's fuse or upon hitting an enemy, leaving a tall explosion also capable of damage. In close-quarters, pressing the shot button will result in your character drawing a knife, behaving similarly to the martial arts attacks in Shinobi (1987,) but with the added function of conserving weapon power-ups (and indeed all ammunition will need to be managed interdependently according to the motivating factor in your performance.) These can be acquired shortly thereafter, either from crates, enemy soldiers marked by tan fatigues, or from P.O.W.s, as a reward for their rescue (they are revealed from behind a pair a boxers like a magic trick, hopefully this isn't suggestive to the former location of the smuggled items.) Weapons include the heavy machine gun, rocket launcher, shotgun, and flame shot, each with the typical range, rate, and power attributes. It's worth noting that the heavy machine gun weapon has a special property that allows it to shoot a diagonal spread of bullets by switching between directions, for maximum space coverage.

The most powerful weapon at your disposal is in fact the mobile tank from which the title is derived (the tank itself being derived from a Masamune Shirow creation.) Where Gunforce and Geo Storm gave you an assortment of specialized vehicles, Metal Slug gives you a single versatile tank - a Super Vehicle - that if anything, is more agile than our heroes Marco and Tarma (that is, with a little adjusting to the weighted movement.) The standard gun is a fully rotatable turret with resemblance to the Heavy Machine Gun but with a more sporadic aim. Our bomb turns into a mid-range armor-piercing shell fired from the stubby cannon, or the grenades while crouching. Yep, it can crouch and crawl (the top half is sort of sucked into the bottom,) and jump even, just like the characters. And if we want, we can forget the projectiles and crush enemies underneath its toothy treads.

There are a couple of extra techniques available while using the Metal Slug, one being a self-destructing maneuver with a shred of utility, the other plainly an ejection from the tank, but with a few seconds of invulnerability offered that can save you a life or let you safely set up a position. In addition to this defensive advantage, the Metal Slug can take a few hits before it is fully damaged and ejection is necessary.

Naturally the other half of the system, if it's to succeed anyway, are the environments and situations themselves. Well, I can safely say that stage design makes great use of all these player mechanics through diverse structural and enemy arrangements. Stage layouts are exceptionally well designed, even if we were to extract the fact that each of the six stages represent some of finest pixel paintings and set pieces in arcade history (or at least until the first couple of sequels.) Enemy variety is equally impressive, although represented by identical middle-aged and pot-bellied men (this isn't a contention, it very much adds to the comedy and collectively gives them more personality then our protagonists even!) Throughout the game they will be wielding pistols, knives, grenades, riot shields, bazookas, machetes, missiles, rockets, firecrackers, and uh, snowballs (mostly with routine variations within each subdivision) and piloting planes, motorcycles, trucks, armored carriers, helicopters, boats, and multiple tanks. Combined with each other and placed in versatile environments, it makes for plenty of interesting and complex, and challenging situational setups, demanding versatile approaches to play.

Metal Slug also benefits from one of the more elaborate scoring systems seen in the sub-genre of action shooting; a combination of traditional checkpoint milking and item bonuses, along with various point multipliers and performances bonuses. In fact, a pretty drastic accommodation is required from players who attempt it at the highest level. For starters the preferred weapon becomes the knife in most cases, as it offers three times the point value of shooting. This characteristic alone induces a host of new strategies. And because each shot has the same value, the most powerful weapons lose their desirability as well. Inside of the Metal Slug, adeptness with the cannon is crucial. A well placed shot against a soldier just outside the center of impact can net you a massive 10x multiplier, or 12x against vehicles (no precision necessary, but hit points will need to be learned for effectiveness here.)

After each stage an assessment will award additional points based on a couple of criteria. For every rescued hostage in your counter you are given 1000 points. Besides the ones in plain view (which mostly serve as ammo refills) there are tons of hostages in obscured locations throughout the stages, usually trading gifts of power-ups for item bonuses. Clearing a stage with an appropriate amount of hostages will trigger the "Great!" bonus worth 100k, and because your hostage counter resets after a death, this acts as a "no-miss" reward of sorts. You could die and still get the bonus but even then it will only shift your losses elsewhere, due to an interesting glitch exploit that is absolutely necessary for high-scoring runs, easily accounting for half of your total score if optimized, or somewhere near. Perhaps it's best to leave it at that. Lastly, survival of the Metal Slug will add 10k to your bonus but this should be part of the plan already (unless speed is the motivation) since bosses are generally designed with the vehicle in mind, especially it's eject function, to relieve some of the duress of certain routines.

On the subject of item bonuses, there are some very imaginative uses of them in this game. The most lucrative of treasures are placed into platform puzzles, some food items can spoil to a diminished value, coins can be "comboed" for exponential bonuses, and so on. My favorite are the boxer shorts hung out to dry in the fifth mission. After destroying a building they will dip down just enough for you to reach them with a jump before getting carried off by the wind.

Then there is the matter of time. With so many re-spawn areas and checkpoints to employ, the game can take well in excess of an hour to complete. I've noticed this to be somewhat controversial, usually among players who are accustomed to the typical duration of forced-scrolling shooters. Really, an arcade game of this length is nothing new (old as the checkpoint itself, at least.) Where Metal Slug improves the tradition is in scoring mechanics that appreciate activity more than camping, which also fits nicely into the risk/reward system. To end, Metal Slug was born during the declining prominence of its form (both the arcade game and 2D shooter,) but it had a measurable impact on what was still to come, and possibly energizing it to an extent. Demon Front and Dolphin Blue are the most notable and direct examples, and although I would consider them more rightful heirs than some of the officially licensed doujin games SNK Playmore has put out, they do not rise above the level of imitation. Surely if the old masters of the arcade hadn't shifted their sights elsewhere even they would've found it difficult matching the fully accomplished atmosphere and overall intensity let alone improving those areas in cohesion, along with more challenging scenarios. But there is something inimitable about this work, with obvious attribution to the highly specialized talents of the graphic artists, but I also think it resides in mechanics resulted from experience in the Irem school of design. Luckily for us, this is where the sequel comes in.

Metal Slug: Super Vehicle 001 | Sega Saturn | SNK

The Saturn conversion is a mostly accurate recreation of the Neo Geo original, at least at the mechanical level. There are a few differences, primarily glitches of a trivial nature (for instance, a POW that falls through a ledge at the beginning of the third stage) although one is a deviation in enemy routines during certain re-spawn areas (tiptoe-ing a third of the way across the screen instead of running up to your player.) This will put them outside the reach of your knife without scrolling and therefor, has some effect on score comparability, but still a huge oversight. Outside of this, there's the discrepancy that comes with reduced animation and slowdown. It requires the 1Mb expansion cartridge, which seems to be just enough to wipe out the mid-stage loading of the Playstation port, but offer nothing else over that version. Maybe more was capable, as the slowdown (which is more egregious here) suggests a case of co-development and little accommodation to the Saturn.

Where the port retains a bit of value is in the extra features. One of them is Combat School mode, where the goal is to work your through the military ranks by completing challenges. You can choose either Pin-Point, a time attack for individual stages with the Metal Slugs replaced by less durable ones, or Survival, which measures your distance into the stages using one life and the Slugs removed altogether. Both have unlimited ammo for power-ups but Survival is still good for a challenge greater than a normal 1CC, and the game actually works very well as a time attack game due to the bomb management aspect and jumps that can act as slight speed boost. The other feature is an extensive art gallery with everything from conceptual sketches to full paintings to whatever else the artists felt like drawing to crack up their colleagues. I mean, you could be browsing it in the time it takes to go through a game of Metal Slug. Just a really welcome addition considering you were rarely given this kind of thing outside of Capcom and fighting games. Still, you can find these images online nowadays so it's not as redeeming as it formerly was, leaving the only real draw of this port Combat School, and for that I would recommend the Neo Geo CD version in which it is also included, but without the deficiencies of frame loss or additional slowdown.




Sountrack (Redbook)
MP3 :: 41:19 :: 56.8 MB